KU Jayhawks hope for ‘magical’ postseason in volleyball despite ‘tough competition’

Gary Bedore, KC Star

Kansas has a history of playing some of its best volleyball when it matters the most — in the NCAA Tournament.

“There is pressure,” KU coach Ray Bechard said of the postseason. “It’s a one-and-done situation, but at the same time, it’s the NCAA Tournament. Magical things can happen when everybody gets on the same page as we kind of proved last year in our little run through Omaha.”

One year after defeating Oregon and Creighton in Omaha and advancing to the Sweet 16, where KU lost to Pittsburgh, the Jayhawks (18-10 overall, 8-8 Big 12) return to Nebraska for first- and possibly second-round NCAA Tournament matches.

KU will meet Miami (FL, 19-10) at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at 7,900-seat Devaney Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. If KU wins it would face the winner of the Nebraska (24-5)-Delaware State (24-6) match at 7 p.m. Friday at Devaney Center with a berth in the Sweet 16 at stake.

“It’s a different place, still in Nebraska,” Bechard said of Lincoln compared to Omaha. “It’s going to be tough competition, so our expectations are (to) go compete hard, take one match at a time and see how far we can advance.”

Bechard concedes it would be exciting if KU could move on to a Friday match versus the perennial national powerhouse Cornhuskers.

“It seems like every time we play Nebraska there’s a pretty big crowd,” Bechard said. “We played them last spring in Grand Island (Nebraska) in an exhibition. They sold 6,000 tickets in less than an hour. We had a competitive match there,” he added of a 3-1 loss to the Huskers.

“Obviously a few years ago we played in Omaha. There was a lot of red in the building at the Final Four.”

In 2015, NU beat KU 3-1 in a Final Four semifinal in Omaha. The Jayhawks reached the NCAAs six straight years from 2012 to 2017, also reaching the Sweet 16 in 2013.

“It’ll be sold out,” Bechard noted of Thursday’s NU-Delaware State match, to start at 7 p.m. following the KU-Miami match.

“I think there will be a good crowd for our match. Hopefully they (NU fans) will remember their Big 12 counterpart and think fondly of them. We’ve got a former Husker on our team (Anezka Szabo) who I’m sure the crowd will be excited to see. It would be great to play in that environment against them but certainly we have a ton of work to do before we worry about that.”

Ayah Elnady is KU’s kills leader with 283. Caroline Bien has 251 kills, Szabo 192, Lauren Dooley 168 and Rachel Langs 158.

“We’re excited to be part of 64 teams that are left,” Bechard said, “t,eams that were very, very excited to see their name come up on Sunday night (on the NCAA selection show). We need to be good. Our good needs to show up. We don’t need to be our very, very best but we need to be good. This time of year that’s what’s expected; that’s what we think this team is capable of.

“Miami comes out of a good conference (ACC). We come out of a good conference (Big 12). It should be a really good matchup. Once again we need to do things true to our character and what we want to do and see what happens,” Bechard noted.

The KU-Miami match will be shown on ESPN+.

KU’s all-league volleyball selections

KU had four players named to the 2022 all-Big 12 second team released by the conference on Tuesday.

Redshirt freshman Elnady, sophomore Camryn Turner, super-senior Szabo and graduate transfer Dooley were all named to the second team. Elnady, a native of Cairo, Egypt, played in 100 sets during the regular season. She had 283 kills, 38 aces, 172 digs and 41 blocks.

Turner, a setter from Topeka, recorded 16 double-doubles in 28 matches. She has 959 assists in 104 sets, 97 kills, 272 digs, 55 blocks and 22 aces.

In her final season at Kansas, Szabo, a native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, played in 83 sets and recorded 192 kills, 79 blocks, 32 digs and four assists. Szabo averaged 2.31 kills per set and 2.82 points per set.

After transferring from Florida for her final season, Dooley has played in all 104 sets for the Jayhawks. Dooley, a native of Plano, Texas, has 115 blocks, averaging 1.11 blocks per set. She has 168 kills, 24 digs, 14 assists.

The All-Big 12 teams are voted on by the conference coaches, and the coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.